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Captain Pugwash

The adventures of Captain Pugwash have been popular among youngsters for 69 years. The fictional pirate and his motley crew first appeared in a cartoon strip in 1950, with the story adapted for BBC television seven years later.

The plot has a timeless appeal and there has even been talk of a live action movie version of the cartoon, starring Nick Frost, who earlier featured in the comedy zombie thriller, Shaun of the Dead.

Captain Pugwash was created by John Ryan, a British animator and cartoonist. The character first appeared in The Eagle, a popular boys' magazine, in 1950. It then appeared as a comic strip in the Radio Times magazine.

Captain Pugwash

© Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo


First TV series

In 1957, the BBC decided to make it into a children's programme. However, it wasn't a traditional cartoon. Instead, it was made with an unusual real-time technique of animation. Cardboard cut-outs of each character were placed on painted backgrounds and were moved manually, using levers.

Peter Hawkins provided all of the characters' voices. He was a famous British voice artist and actor on both radio and television. A policeman's son from Brixton, he was a familiar face in production studios until the 1980s. His other claim to fame was that he provided the Daleks' voices in Dr Who.

When he was commissioned to provide the characters' voices in Captain Pugwash, he was already well-known for being the voices of another BBC children's show, Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men.

The first TV series of Captain Pugwash ran from 1957 to 1966. It continued for 87 episodes and was filmed in black and white, in the days before colour television became the norm.


Different characters

Captain Horatio Pugwash was the captain of the pirate ship, the Black Pig. He would sometimes behave in a pompous manner and despite his boasts that he was the "bravest buccaneer", he was something of a coward deep down! He was seldom seen committing any act of piracy and instead was swept up in various other adventures on the high seas.

His right-hand man was Master Mate, a most unlikely pirate, who had a teddy bear in his bunk and was rather dopey. He had a habit of mispronouncing words and seemed to have no authority over the crew whatsoever - begging the question of why he had been made first mate!

Tom the Cabin Boy seems to be the real brains behind the operation. Without him, Captain Pugwash would have been sunk, so to speak! A resourceful and intelligent crew member, he seems to be the only one who actually knows how to sail a ship, while he also does all the cooking.

Another young crew member, Willy from Wigan, is a gentle soul, who's against violence. He's quite intelligent and has the odd brainwave, which has saved the crew from various scrapes - although this is sometimes more by luck than anything else.

Barnabas is grumpy and rebellious, so in terms of Captain Pugwash's crew, he is the most pirate-like. However, he's still pretty tame, as pirates go. He's slightly more intelligent than some of the other crew members, but not a patch on Tom the Cabin Boy.

Pugwash's nemesis was the fearsome Cut-Throat Jake, who captained the Flying Dustman. He spent his time trying to dream up a way of causing Pugwash's downfall but never succeeded. He seemed to be a more successful pirate than his arch-enemy and there was often plenty of treasure lying about on his ship.

The second series of Captain Pugwash was broadcast during 1974 and 1975. This time, it was filmed in colour and looked more like a traditional cartoon than the 1950s version, although the same cardboard cut-out technique was used.

A few new characters were introduced, such as the softly-spoken Governor of Portobello, Maggie Lafayette the pirate queen and Stinka, one of Cut-Throat Jake's crew, who was very annoying because he repeated everything that Jake said.


Funniest moments

There were some delightfully funny scenes in the show. In one episode, the captain decided to train his crew to use the ship's weapons properly. He tells them to load the cannons, but as he demonstrates how to fire the weapons, it all goes horribly wrong.

Pugwash lets the cannon slip so that it's facing the shore, rather than out to sea. Unfortunately, the cannonball blows a huge hole in the wall of a castle on the quay. Then, Pugwash realised it was their only cannonball, so they now had no weapons. He decided they would have to row ashore to retrieve it - not the most sensible idea, under the circumstances.

In another episode, a terrible storm batters the Black Pig, leaving Captain Pugwash and the crew floating about on wooden planks in the sea. They don't know what to do next, as they think the ship has sunk - until they see it floating over the horizon with Tom the Cabin Boy at the helm. The crew admits, "We hadn't even noticed he was missing," as Tom waves cheerily and shouts, "Welcome back!"


Modern era

After the second Captain Pugwash series ended in 1975, children's television had changed dramatically. Although cartoons and slapstick humour were still popular, there was a new edge to kids' TV, with series such as Grange Hill breaking new ground in 1978 with its gritty realism and controversial plots.

However, there was still a place for shows such as Captain Pugwash, as was proven when a third series was made in 1997. This time, it used traditional animation, rather than the manual cut-outs of old. It ran for 26 episodes and introduced the captain and his crew to a new generation of viewers.

There has also been a series of 21 Captain Pugwash stories published by Puffin Books between 1957 and 1991, with titles such as Pugwash and the Ghost Ship, Pugwash and the Buried Treasure and many more.

In May 2017, it was announced that a live action movie of Captain Pugwash was being filmed, with Frost playing the captain. At the time, the comedy actor said it was a role he was "born to play" and that he couldn't wait to start filming. The movie is still in the production stages.

The plot sees Pugwash sailing to Botany Bay, where he finds that Tom the Cabin Boy's father is marooned on a volcanic island. The captain and his intrepid crew set off on a rescue mission on the Black Pig.

Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash, died in 2009 at the age of 88. His other notable animations included Mary, Mungo and Midge in 1969 and The Adventures of Sir Prancelot from 1971 to 1972, both for the BBC.

Coruba offers a range of rubber boat matting to help prevent slipping accidents on ships and boats… if only Captain Pugwash had heard about us! Please contact us for further details of our range of marine and wet environment products.

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